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Organized for Success: Back to School Edition (Student Tip)

When I was a kid, I used to love going to Staples to get school supplies for the upcoming school year. Picking out the most stylish trapper keeper, brightest gel pens, and cutest puppy folders I could find was the best. Nowadays, school supplies may be a bit less exciting (or at least less tacky...), but they can still make a world of difference in terms of feeling prepared and ready for the start of a successful school year. While every person may have his or her preferences when it comes to school supplies, it is essential that you figure out a system that works well for you and helps you to stay organized. Here are suggested school supplies that have been helpful for many of the high school students I have worked with:

A Planner

Few things make me as frustrated as seeing a student’s grades tank due to forgetting what homework was assigned. Why waste precious brain space remembering what pages of a textbook to read when that energy could go towards memorizing another vocab word or two? Planners exist for a reason, and that reason is to help you keep track of what you need to do without having to store that information in your brain. These should be used to keep track of homework assignments, upcoming tests/quizzes, in-class presentations, and even extracurricular schedules.


Some of my students swear by using just one universal binder to keep notes for all of their classes together, whereas others recommend separate binders for each class. Advocates of the single binder method argue that they never have to worry about forgetting to bring home something they need for homework, because everything can be found in one convenient place. A strong argument for the multiple binder method is that students can leave all binders in their locker, and in the morning take out the binders for the classes they have before lunch first, and then at lunch, switch it up. Some students create a homework folder or binder, and put any materials they need throughout the day into that folder so they can leave all binders in their locker after school and only take home the materials needed for that night’s homework.

An Accordion Folder

While most of us would like to think of ourselves as organized and on top of things, the reality is that life can be busy and we do not always prioritize putting things where they belong. Although a binder system sounds like it should be enough to keep us organized, for many of us, especially students with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or executive function difficulties, this type of system still leaves a lot of room for error. The seemingly simple act of filing a piece of paper into a binder actually requires multiple steps: (1) hole punching the paper, (2) taking your binder out of your school bag, (3) opening the binder to the correct section, (3) opening up the rings and putting the paper in, (4) closing the rings, and (5) putting away your binder. In the fast paced world that many high school students live in, they may simply not feel like they have enough time at the end of class to do all of these steps, resulting in the dreaded layer of crumpled paper that may look something like this or even this. An accordion folder is there to be our voice of reason, a compromise between the ideal we hold ourselves to and our reality. It allows us to quickly and easily file a piece of paper into our school bags and know exactly where to find it again, without even having to take it out of your backpack. By making tabs for each of your subjects, you can simply place papers into their designated folder, either to be stored there for the entire semester/trimester/term, or more preferably, until you have the time to place things into your binders. I encourage my students to get into a routine where they go through their accordion folder once a week and put things into their binders.

A Notecard Box

To adequately prepare for a test or quiz, nothing beats good old fashioned notecards. I remember regularly going into my school bag and finding a sea of vocab flashcards floating along the bottom. By keeping flashcards in a notecard box, you can avoid this from happening. And bonus -- you can just reuse the same flashcards you already made when studying for an exam!

A Pen and Pencil Case

I am always in search of a pen. I can’t tell you how often in staff meetings I turn to the teacher sitting next to me to borrow a pen for the worksheet we are filling out. As a result, I usually miss the first minute of writing time, and feel as though I need to rush to keep up with everyone else. This is because I do not keep a pen and pencil case in my bag, and I really should. If you don’t want to always be searching for something to write with in class, then do yourself a favor and just get a case to keep them.

Starting the year off with the right supplies can go a long way in helping us stay organized and be successful this school year. Figure out a system you think will work best for you and commit to actually using it. Remember that habits take repeated practice to build, so find a system you will be willing to use day after day in order for it to be successful this year.

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